Bon Appetit! Fine Dining Techniques Can Engage Nonprofit Donors

waiter.jpgAll good fundraisers know that a successful direct response program relies, in part, on establishing strong relationships between donors and organizations. To do this effectively, we have to understand why donors are motivated to give in the first place—and then find ways to appeal to their unique motivators and needs.

Not too long ago, I was part of a panel discussion in which an analogy was drawn between donor-nonprofit relationships and the interactions between restaurant waiters and diners. The comparison might seem a bit crazy at first—but the two situations actually have a lot in common.

Here are some strategies that waiters—and direct marketers—must use to build solid relationships:

  • Follow Up with an Ask: Waiters are diligent about asking customers if they would like to try the dish of the day or if they saved room for dessert. Oftentimes, diners don’t know about these special options unless the waiter suggests them. In the nonprofit world, the same applies. Testing shows that asking for donations early and often increases response. If you don’t ask, they won’t give. 
  • Do Not Skimp on the Necessities: Whether they’re making sure every diner has the necessary silverware or working with kitchen staff to guarantee all entrees are served at the same time, waiters are responsible for providing all the necessities. In the nonprofit world, we have necessities too—and one of them is donor acquisition. All too often, organizations try to reduce or eliminate their acquisition programs when funding becomes an issue. But investing in acquisition is an absolute necessity, even when budgets are tight. When you skimp on acquisition, you pay for it later when your file starts to shrink.
  • Look Elsewhere for Improvement: New waiters look to experienced wait staff for techniques on how to best serve diners. Likewise, nonprofits should keep tabs on what similar organizations are doing to attract and retain donors. If it’s working for another organization in the same market, it will probably work for you.
  • Make a Personal Connection: Successful waiters enhance the dining experience (and get great tips!) by making a personal connection with restaurant-goers via engaging conversation. Nonprofits should do the same. When you share inspiring stories about people who have benefited from your organization’s work, donors become more emotionally invested—and more inclined to give.

Nonprofits that follow these strategies will offer their donors the equivalent of a Michelin 5-star experience. Bon appetit!

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